End of an era

Our cast-off date has been set for June 12, but there are so many little departures along the way that make us nostalgic in advance.

Garlic curing in the attic
Garlic curing in the attic

For the last eight years, we’ve been privileged to garden with another family, building our joint endeavor to five 20’x20′ community garden plots as well as onions, corn and over a thousand heads of garlic grown on other friends’ land. We’ve also expanded our tiny initial front-yard garden into something more elaborate in the backyard, including fruit trees and raspberries, perennial herb beds and more lettuce than one person can possibly eat.

We’ve shown our kids where their food comes from, exercised in the fresh air, and eaten as well as possible for very little money. At peak production, we’ve filled over 200 jars with canned goods, and kept two chest freezers brimming with produce (and the occasional half-pig from farming friends). Most of our gifts to family and friends have come from our garden. For a few years, my garden partner and I even had a plant sale business.

Plant sale!
Plant sale!

For a couple of sailors, we’ve been deeply attached to the land.


That’s coming to an end now, or at least a hiatus, as the frost takes down the last of the lemon verbena and threatens the parsley. There are still leeks and Brussels sprouts to harvest from up at Troy, and the kale will hang out through most of December, but I won’t be planting garlic this fall. I could get some spinach in the ground for spring, but I know it will feel like a burden instead of a gift in the chaos of our final few months here. It’s time to take a break from being rooted, and find adventure elsewhere.DSC_0403

Anchors aweigh

Parked at the pier.
Parked at the pier.

On the water, there are really two options for parking your boat: at a dock, and at anchor. Docks have lots of benefits: they usually offer the best protection from wind and waves; it’s easy to provision or work on the boat if you have easy access to land; and often, they’re attached to a marina, with luxuries like hot showers and laundry. They also cost money–as much as two or three dollars per foot of boat. While there will be times we expect to be tied up to a pier, we plan to spend almost all of our nights at anchor.

Anchoring can be great–more privacy, fewer bugs, nice cooling breezes–but your security depends entirely on how well your anchor holds to the bottom. Milou was a bit of a dock queen; she came set up with a beat-up danforth-style anchor, maybe 100 feet of moldy line, and a bent bow roller. It wasn’t the type of equipment we wanted to ensure peace of mind through the night.

Anchored to the living room rug.
Anchored to the living room rug.

Talking about how to choose an anchor is a religious conversation for a lot of sailors; people become very loyal to their chosen anchor philosophy. Our goal was to find an anchor smarter that we are. Anchoring is not something Michu and I have a lot of experience with, and we didn’t want to spend our time switching between The Best Anchor For Mud and The Best Anchor For Grassy Sand. We decided to upgrade to a 45-pound Mantus anchor–a “new-generation” anchor that should set in almost all bottom conditions.

That's not going to work.
That’s not going to work.

Of course, our new anchor wasn’t going to fit on our tattered bow roller; we’d need an upgrade. Michu did most of the work on the bow roller in the early spring of 2014.

New bow roller; faux anchor.
New bow roller; faux anchor.

Fortunately, one of the benefits of our Mantus anchor is disassembly. Instead of trying to wield a 45-pound monster on the skinny end of an icy bow hanging 15 feet above ground, Michu was only wrestling with about 20 pounds of steel bolted to a wooden template.


Rope wasn’t our preferred rode to connect the boat to the anchor, either–we wanted chain. Rope can chafe over rocks and coral; chain will not only withstand more abuse, it will add weight to ground tackle, laying down on the bottom and helping the anchor to stay set. The benefits don’t come cheap, though; the chain alone can cost over $1000, and then there’s shipping costs. So…how can we save on shipping? Shop Amazon, of course! We found a great deal on chain and had it shipped up to the boat for free.

Anchor: check. Bow roller: check. Chain: check.
Anchor: check. Bow roller: check. Chain: check.

Next on our anchoring to-do list: a windlass. We were feeling young and strong, and also pretty broke after buying all that chain, so we were leaning toward a cheaper manual windlass that we’d winch up by hand–until we checked in with our friend and boat guru Eric. In his experience, sailors invariably run into times when they’ve put down their anchor and then thought the better of their situation. Maybe the waves are bending around a point in an uncomfortable way; maybe you’ve not left enough swing room to allow sufficient distance to your neighbor. With an electric windlass, you can fire up the motor, pull up the anchor and choose a better spot while still holding your rum drink; with a manual windlass, the chances are pretty good you’ll convince yourself that, really, the set is fine, you’ll never run into those rocks, your neighbor is actually miles away…and that’s how you get to a situation where your boat drags in the middle of the night. That absolutely sounded like something we would do; so, electric windlass is was.

It's...a shelf!
It’s…a shelf!


Michu fabricated a shelf for the anchor locker to seat the windlass, and we spent a day wiring thick cables from the aft batteries to the bow. It was a lesson in communication for us both, with Michu back by the batteries, feeding cable to me in the saloon:

Michu: "Ok, pull"
me: *pulling*
me: *still pulling...nothing is happening*
Michu: "Ok, pull again."
me: "Uhm. I was still pulling from the last time." *pulling...cable moves three inches...more pulling*
Michu: "Ok, pull"
me: "I never stopped pulling! You need to tell me when to stop!" *horrific swearing*
kids hanging out in the bow: *mom is in serious trouble from all of that swearing*

We worked it out, but the interim between the initial pulling and the final “Pull–ok, stop–ok, pull” system sounded like an excerpt from some terrible couples therapy. Michu finished up the wiring in early August, and with a rope snubber and a Mantus chain hook, our new anchoring system was complete.

Shiny new boat jewelry.
Shiny new boat jewelry.
We like the way the capstan sticks up through the anchor locker; nice to have one electric winch on board!
We like the way the capstan sticks up through the anchor locker; nice to have one electric winch on board!

Since those desperate days, we’ve been able to put our anchor to the test–especially during a three-day stretch this past August, with winds gusting up to 30 knots as we bobbed on the hook fixing our engine starter. The chain is louder than we expected; in the v-berth we can hear it clinking around as the boat swings during the night. Other than that, we are completely happy with how we are set up–the anchor deploys easily, so far it sets on the first try, stays put, and comes back up when we need to leave. It was a big investment, but we’re hoping it pays for itself with nights away from pricy marinas.

On the masthead

Admiral Ackbar for navigation; Yoda for lightning protection.
Admiral Ackbar for navigation; Yoda for lightning protection.

Totally not panicking.

At some point in the late summer, 2014, we looked around out boat and said out loud to ourselves, “If we had to, we could leave tomorrow. Sure, there are things we would like to be nicer, and it would be great to get the freshwater systems done before we go, but really, this boat is pretty great for living aboard.”

That’s hard to keep in mind these days.

So much time available to us...right? Right?
So much time available to us…right? Right?

Our lists have lists. There are so many projects to be done, we can’t even keep the big ideas of the tasks in our heads, never mind the minutia of all the steps.

One school of thought when it comes to buying a cruising boat is to buy it at the last minute, work really hard for a month or two to get it into shape, and head out–without having incurred the costs of storage, insurance, etc of years of ownership. We’d planned to be that kind of boat purchaser; but it turns out that hoarding every last penny without having anything to show for it gets really depressing after a few years; as soon as we had the money for the initial purchase, we pretty much spent it. The benefits to our impatience are many–we’ve gotten to know our boat, the kids are more comfortable aboard, we’ve been able to suss out some great deals on gear we need, and Michu’s had the time to do almost all our boat work himself; but it’s also led us down a path of twisted perfection. Maybe we DO need the best possible autohelm money can buy! What about our communications–maybe we need a WiFi booster AND Iridium GO, plus a new VHF with DSC and AIS and a house WiFi adaptor to broadcast all that info to our iPad… It’s a never-ending pit of potential, and it’s difficult to protect the cruising kitty in the face of sweet new refrigeration systems.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, and the money is rushing out the door. We only have a limited number of months of income before we become People Living Off Of Savings.

So: Restraint. Organization. Clarity. That’s what we’re working on over here this week.

So well organized.
So well organized.

Radar arch of awesomeness

Our boat was never used for cruising. She was purchased with Texas oil money in the early 80’s, and from what we can tell–based on the equipment aboard when we took ownership–she spent most of her life either at the dock, or anchored out for the day for football games/dance parties. (So. Many. Speakers.) That’s great for us; she was lightly used, and no one tried to charge us extra for a bunch of out-of-date navigation equipment or worn-out self-steering gear; but it means she needs a lot of outfitting to prepare for live aboard life.


One item on our non-negotiable list has always been an radar arch–a big hunk of aluminum to span the stern our our boat. Arches provide a great spot for installing a radar, but we plan to use ours primarily as a spot to mount our solar panels.

Off-the-grid electrical is an important topic for us. We hope to spend most of our time at anchor, instead of being tied to shore power and dockage costs. The last thing we want is to have our solar panels rip off our not-super-awesome bimini, or be shattered by a wayward kid. On the arch, our panels should be safe and sound.

...and after
…and after

We also plan to use our arch to hoist our dinghy out of the water. It’s not as secure as pulling the dink onto the bow, which we expect to do for longer passages, but it keeps the slime from growing on the bottom and protects the little boat a bit more from theft.

Some boats come with an arch integral to their design. Some owners custom-weld their arches. We ordered an offset sail arch from Atlantic Towers (for our Beneteau 38, we ordered the one to fit 88-100″ forward, 78-90″ aft).

First off, Michu fabricated some custom backing plates to prevent flexing and carry the load of the arch. Wiggling around in the aft lazarette, he was able to place them in an area of solid fiberglass, braced against a corner where the aft deck and transom came together–super strong.

Thanks, John! You're the best!
Thanks, John! You’re the best!

Next came the math. Figuring out how to perfectly fit the legs on both the (mostly) flat deck and the sloping transom–no problem, right? Second-grade math! Easy-peasy! Time to blithely hack away at the $2000 piece of aluminum… Michu decided to take it in stages, sawing off a few inches and then doing a trial fit with a crane assist. His calculations turned out to be perfect.

IMG_2435 (1)
Finishing up in the fading light.

We still have to fine-tune our dinghy hoist system; we have a Harken Hoist that we’d like to string off the back to avoid adding davit arms, but our little inflatable dinghy needs some attachment points to make it work smoothly. The solar has yet to be purchased, as well. But: we LOVE our arch. It looks amazing, it’s solidly attached, and it makes us feel like real cruisers.